November 4, 2021 by Joe Mahoney
ALBANY — New York Democrats suffered grim results in this week’s elections, with the GOP making gains in suburban regions after focusing on core issues such as public safety, taxes and the challenges faced by family-operated businesses.
The GOP had some of its most successful efforts in places where independent voters often have a significant say in the outcome of competitive elections, such as the two Long Island counties, Nassau and Suffolk, as well as Colonie, the largest suburb in Albany County.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga County, said the statewide results reflect what she said is growing voter discontent nationally with the policies of President Joe Biden and progressive measures that have emerged from the Albany statehouse, including the controversial move to a cashless bail system in New York.
“The issues that I think were important were the crime issue — the Democrats; doubling down on ‘defund the police’ as well as bail reform, which has been a disaster,” Stefanik said in an interview. “And the issue that has been at the top of the minds of voters is the historic inflation, especially with people heading toward the holidays, coupled with the supply chain issues” that has led to doubts about the availability of some goods sought by consumers.
Stefanik argued Democratic leaders in Albany and Washington have alienated many voters by promoting a “far-left” agenda calling for higher government spending.
Despite having a 2-to-1 voter enrollment advantage in New York, the Democrats failed to pass three statewide ballot measures. One involved the adoption of same-day voter registration, another proposed no-excuse absentee ballots and a third would have recalibrated the legislative redistricting process.
Over a 10-day period leading up to the election, a period during which the state Democratic Party had little to say about those issues, state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy barnstormed the state, organizing events in 40 separate counties to urge a “no” vote on all three measures. All were rejected Tuesday, though voters supported a ballot question calling for clean water and air protections.
The Democratic Socialist Alliance in Nassau County complained state Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs bungled the election by not embracing the progressive message that resonates with younger voters.
But Jacobs argued the GOP riled up the electorate by highlighting the public safety issues.
“Their strategy is either to make the voters angry or scare them, and with bail reform, they did both, and they used a lot of misinformation,” Jacobs, who is also the Nassau County Democratic chairman, told WCBS. “Not only about bail reform itself and what it is and what the consequences of it were, but also by blaming Todd Kaminsky (a Democratic state senator who was defeated in the race for Nassau County district attorney) for writing a bill he didn’t write.”
Democrats easily outnumber Republicans in Nassau County. But the GOP candidate for district attorney, Anne Donnelly, scored an easy victory over Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor.
“Thanks for backing the candidate who backs the blue,” Donnelly, who was supported by local police unions, said in her victory speech.
Langworthy told CNHI that the bail issue, as well as a new law requiring the speedy transmission of prosecution evidence to criminal defense lawyers, were essentially “on the ballot” in the district attorney races won by the Republicans on Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“Our suburban voters are coming back to the Republican Party, and they are rejecting everything that has happened under the Biden administration,” Langworthy said. “But they are also rejecting one-party Democratic control over New York, and rejecting the Democratic assault on our criminal justice system.”
Both Langworthy and Stefanik contended Democrats in New York were swamped by a “red wave.”
The results came just three weeks after veteran Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl told CNHI that he is so frustrated with the criminal justice laws enacted in Albany recently that he will not seek re-election when his current term expires.
A supporter of the cashless bail system, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-the Bronx, took issue with the moderate message of the Democratic leadership.
“The takeaway from Democratic losses tonight isn’t to be more moderate,” Biaggi tweeted late Tuesday. “It’s to be more dynamic. To have a vision. To embrace the future. To be an actual leader and not a boring, dead fish.”
Democratic division over the progressive agenda was reflected by the Buffalo mayoral contest, won handily by incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, despite the fact he lost a ballot berth and had to run as a write-in candidate after losing the Democratic primary in the state’s largest upstate city to socialist India Walton.
“The Republicans did much better than people anticipated in most places, and the electorate was so activated that they even did a write-in vote to make sure that a Democratic socialist was defeated in Buffalo,” said veteran New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.
Tuesday’s results send a message that “the ‘defund the police’ message is death to Democrats,” Sheinkopf said, and embracing bail reform is very risky for “politicians who want to protect their margins.”
The results also suggest that the Republicans will try to make further gains by courting unaffiliated independents and continuing to focus on criminal justice issues, Sheinkopf said.
State Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar said his party’s alliance with the GOP yielded dividends for both organizations Tuesday and could put other elective posts in play in 2022, when all statewide offices and the legislative seats are up for grabs.
“No one should assume that New York is a solid blue state,” said Kassar, insisting that Democratic dominance of New York was shaken Tuesday. “Significant victories took place that changed the landscape in many parts of the state.”
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